California Walks tweeted an LA Times articles entitled Highway deaths at lowest level since 1949; bike, truck fatalities rise. The misinformation and misunderstanding in the article includes:

The article misses that the Traffic Safety Fact: 2011 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview (TSF), linked from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) press release, also shows that the injury rate per vehicle mile traveled (VMT) has been flat for three years. What does this mean? It probably means that the number of crashes has not declined, just the likelihood of fatality in a crash. The rate per VMT is the only useful measure of traffic safety. Fatality counts and injury counts are a mis-measure because they are affected by the rate of driving and a number of other factors, rather than the safety of driving.

The TSF provides counts of pedestrian fatalities, up 3%, and bicyclists (the NHTSA uses the obscure term pedalcyclists), up 8.7%. To go with the counting game, this is an increase of 130 dead pedestrians and 54 dead bicyclists in just one year. No statistics are presented on the fatality rate per bicycle mile traveled. Why? I believe that it is because NHTSA is too lazy or too disinterested to compile information on bicycle miles traveled. Though pedestrian miles traveled would be difficult to compile, at least a rate could be developed per pedestrian trip, which would be a more accurate measure of the rate of fatalities. Again, the NHTSA can’t be bothered. I am certainly not the first to point out that pedestrian and bicyclist fatality counts are a mis-measure of safety, yet the federal, state, and local governments continue to ignore the issue.

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